I flew to the Bay area this weekend for a quick visit with the Brennan sisters. Meg was in town, visiting from her new life in Denmark, and Katie just bought a new home. It was a wonderful, quick time together. I spent much of it just holding on to Meghann before she got back on a plane across the Atlantic.
Three cheers to holding friendships close. I’m lucky to have a strong tribe of female friends scattered across the globe who I love dearly. I hope to get to do more of these quick trips to check in and see them in 2022. If this pandemic has taught me anything it’s that I do not want more stuff. I want time with my family and friends, even if it is arguing over board games or burnt dinner.
Happiness is relative, and fake positivity is harmful. Let’s start there. This is not a guide to how to achieve happiness, but instead a few steps I’ve taken in the last few years to keep my mental health in good shape. If these help do the same for you: wonderful!
Spend time outside. When I’m feeling off, it is often because I’ve been trapped inside for too long. Whether it is due to the heat, or other commitments, spending too much time indoors is bad for my wellbeing. With the weather cooling, we are taking longer dog walks, eating dinner on the patio, and this past weekend we had the chance to get away to Flagstaff. Sitting outside just to sit outside is such a pleasure. Listening to the birds and the wind, smelling bacon cooking first thing in the morning from other campsites, and seeing the array of stars come out in the dark night sky — all a true delight. Our lives are frantic with work and commitments; spending this bit of downtime enjoying nature is a great reset.
Read real books. I’ve never gotten on board with e-books. As an avid reader, I’m always lugging some book around and having someone say to me, “Haven’t you heard of the Kindle?” Of course e-books are more convenient, but like exercise: I’m all about finding the form that works for you. I love good old hard copy books, and even more so if they have that baked-in musty library smell. I also love audio books and am thankful to the Libby app. Time to sit and read (hey, even outside!) feels like a treat.
Side note: I need to sort through our books and do a little library/thrift dump. Even though we are both in the habit of passing off books once we’ve read them, they seem to show up faster than we can read and move along. My cookbooks, I swear, have been mating.
Check in with your senses. We went for a hike this weekend in the aspen groves on the San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona. Walking below the towering trees, with their white bark and yellow leaves, felt magical because the air was sweet. It made me happy to see so many families out enjoying the trail, including two young Amish couples with their children.
Savor what you eat. This comes from a place of great privilege. Food isn’t so abundant for many that there is an option to “savor.” That said, getting in the habit of eating and drinking less, but making it the best quality can change the day. This doesn’t have to be an exercise in expense; we have a favorite local fast food bean burrito. The line is a bit longer at Señor Taco, but the food is worth it. I read once about how French women only eat three bites of dessert because by the fourth bite, you aren’t really taking in all the flavors anymore. You’re satiated, if you’ll listen to your hunger rather than your eyes. I think this is likely a bunch of nonsense, but I do appreciate really taking your time with food. Also, I’m terrible at this. Slowing down to enjoy each bite is a spiritual practice.
Write a note of thanks. I write a lot of thank you cards professionally and personally. It feels good to get mail. It’s nice to know you are appreciated. And it today’s digital world, I think most people are pleasantly surprised someone took the time to find paper, stamp, and time to send a note. I’ll also die on the hill that the happiest people are those who are the most grateful. They can always find something to be thankful for.
Prioritize sleep. If you know me, you know I live by this rule. I have always prioritized sleep because it makes me feel good. I think clearer. I can get more done during the day, and I do tasks with more precision and care. I’m nicer and more patient. I sleep 8-10 hours a night, 12 on vacation. I have zero shame in my sleep game.
Be vulnerable. This one is tough, but I do think my personal happiness is boosted when I can have frank conversations with others about vulnerable topics. Showing someone else what you are ashamed of, what you’re scared of, what you hold dear can be crippling. The same can be said for being able to say you’re sorry. Checking in with your emotions and being able to share these in a healthy way can only promote a happier life.
Celebrate your tribe. Check in with your close friends. Be there to celebrate their joys, even when they aren’t your joys. Tell people you love them when you have the chance.
That’s it. That’s my happiness list. What’s on yours?
I’ve been volunteering at a garden in a swanky north Scottsdale neighborhood. I met a woman through a Junior League event and she asked for some help getting their garden beds started. We planted way, way too much the first time around — but thanks to a great irrigation system, it grew like wildfire.
We pulled the beds clean last week and started over, working coffee grounds into the earth and planting several varieties of sunflowers, which will do great with the impending heat. I love to plant sunflowers for those sweaty July days when I’m desperate to spend time outside. They are low maintenance, good for the birds, and good for your soil. They give me something to water without giving me too much to do when it is 100-plus. It is a fun activity, but the voles and other rodents indeed are quite difficult to get rid of. These pests can damage shrubs and plants if left to breed. Some of my friends suggested some tips regarding the same and you can read them when you click for more info here.
Turning over the beds a bit early due to timing of volunteer schedules meant I came home with a bag full of green tomatoes. Also, a bag full of herbs and a bunch of jalapenos. We are going to a Kentucky Derby party this weekend in the neighborhood, so I sent a generous bag of mint down the street for festivities prep. Otherwise, I turned to canning books to figure out what to do and landed on two recipes: pickled peppers, and green tomato chutney.
I goofed up a bit on both, as I’m prone to do the first time with a canning recipe. On the peppers, I did not pack the jar tight enough — as the instructions said. So, there is a lot of brine for little spice, but we’ve been eating them and they are great. Second, the chutney called for brown sugar and I should have known better and automatically cut the amount in half. We don’t eat a lot of sugar and this chutney is delicious and way, way too sweet. It will be good for roasting meat in the crockpot.
And oh, the herbs. OH THE HERBS.
I’m using as much of this as possible this week in sauces and freezing the rest. I love to use lavender in sachets — not to cook with. Additionally, I cut some hollyhocks from the garden for the house.
I loved walking with that class of kids through the garden and talking shop. They asked smart questions and their minds were blown when I handed them tiny pieces of mint to eat. “IT TASTES LIKE GUM!” A Willy Wonka moment.
Our friend Sagar came over last weekend for dinner. He is quite the foodie, and is intimidating to cook for. (The type of foodie who spent six months working on a croissant recipe until it was perfected.)
So… I over thought this. We ended up grilling steaks, with carmelized onions and mushrooms. We roasted sprouts and asparagus, made some pesto with basil from the garden and made bread. The bread was a multi-day process, but it was well worth it.
Also, there was chocolate whiskey cake. And it was a bit dry, but I loved it.
Add the rest of that whiskey to the party, and it became a partaaaay. We did end up drinking quite a bit of whiskey, but I couldn’t help myself. It was delicious! Plus, he had some engraved whiskey glasses that had never been used before so it would have been rude not to use them. It felt really good drinking whiskey from a proper whiskey glass, like a true gentleman, compared to just an ordinary tumbler. I think every time we spend time together now, we’ll have a little whiskey and reminisce about the great night we had. It was fun to spend time with Sagar and his pup, Voo. I can’t wait to do it again sometime.
My church is leading a series on money—namely how we have fears associated with money, which lead to careless behaviors. (I first typed that as “carless behaviors,” which could either be a poor financial decision, or the result of some seriously fabulous environmental frugality.) This series has me thinking about budgets and how to save more to help those in need. Homelessness, hunger and refugees are always on my heart. If I spend less on say, the Old Navy clearance rack—on things that aren’t made well, I’m not going to wear often, and I will sooner than later take to Goodwill—I can instead give more.
I want to consume less and be more thoughtful about what I can do with the money I earn.
Fashion is art. I struggle a bit spiritually with the balance between fashion and vanity. And, fashion inherently feeds consumerism. So, I am challenging myself to not buying anything new to wear for six months. Instead, I’m going to be creative with the ample closet I own, and mix and match with some creativity.
This challenge is set to turn that on its head. Instead, I’m going to wear what I have and celebrate it. And in this, I hope to be more mindful about what I purchase in the future. I’m also looking forward to being a bit more polished and inventive—which I will do when I know I’m posting a photo of what I’m wearing.
Join, if you are interested. I’ll be posting photos to Instagram (@africankelli) and a few here and on Facebook. Let frugal fashion reign!
Jason finished up the addition to the garden bed this weekend, including a new irrigation system — which will come in handy as soon as temps climb over 100 and hauling buckets of water gets old. I am thrilled! Three weeks ago, I planted cucumbers and zucchini by seed, and with the addition, I was able to thin the starts by replanting them in the new bed. Additionally, we planted more tomatoes, onions, and I’m trying melons for the first time.
I am thrilled with this crazily (perhaps suggestively) shaped garden. It was my Christmas gift and I am so happy Santa heard me! And really happy we are all heirloom and organic. I mixed egg shells into the soil this morning and sprinkled everything with a heavy dose of bone meal. We are going to have a bounty of vegetables in a couple months. I’m dreaming of an early-summer tomato party, and trying pickles again with all those cukes.
A house feels like a home to me when I can get a garden going, especially one where I’ve had the time and resources to work the soil. I know with time, this will be my best garden yet.
We have broccoli, peppers and onions going strong in the garden. We’re soon adding an addition to the garden bed — a separate bed solely for tomatoes. I’m thrilled. We’ll fill it two-thirds with organic compost and soil, and then work in epsom salts, crushed egg shells and top it with straw. Apparently straw helps prevent moldy growth on tomatoes and will reduce the amount of water needed. The egg shells prevent the soggy bottom disease (a calcium deficiency) I had a few years ago.
The tomato starts are on windowsills and fill the bathtub upstairs. (You’ve got to get your sunlight and humidity where you can, man!)
I also bought a bag of bat guano at Native Seed when visiting Tucson last week. I am trying it with these tomato seeds (from Finny!) and will see what type of production it helps produce. This is one of my favorite parts of gardening: the experimentation.
Come May, I’m hoping for a wild harvest and salsa party. Andale!
January in central Arizona is citrus season. You’ll see citrus trees with arms bowing, full of fruit. And there are trees nearly everywhere — medians along major streets, parks, and plenty in backyards. Our trees didn’t do great this year; it’s normal for citrus to have an off season, even though they received ample water and fertilizer.
Thankfully, when we were out running errands this weekend, we noticed a small farm stand with bags of lemons for $1. (Considering we too have to pay about $1 a lemon at the market come July, I grabbed a bunch.)
With a bit of time, the oranges from our navel tree became the season’s first batch of marmalade. I like to add a full jar, with a diced onion and some garlic, to the crockpot when slow cooking pork roast.
The lemons were juiced and saved. We use these cubes in ice tea, cooking and baking. It makes the January bounty last well into the year.
(And bone broth. Do you do this? It is so easy, and I swear it’s upped my cooking game. We keep our rotisserie chicken bones and slow cook them with vegetables and spices. After several hours, I strain the liquid into mason jars, which go into the freezer. We use these to cook rice, beans, for the base of sauces, etc.)
An update from the Heirloom Hacienda. Tomorrow: what’s happening in the garden (including the addition of another bed!)
The plate wall is up. I appreciate that it is a little wonky and full of trees. The green jadeite platter is my favorite, and I’m happy to showcase it. I used these plate hangers after a good bit of research and they are absolutely worth the expense. They worked like a charm!
The linen closet is sorted and it makes me smile to see this odd collection of vintage sheets in their new home.
I really am loving turning this place into our home! This week: selling a few pieces of extra furniture, putting together the dining room table, setting up the sewing/craft room and hosting some girlfriends for my first happy hour.
Nelson and I have found our new three-mile walking path. It is just long enough for him to need a nap on the cool tile when we return and for me to catch up on just enough world news. Once it cools, we’ll hit the nearby trails for morning adventures. For now, we watch the heavy gray afternoon clouds come over the Superstitions and pray for just enough rain to water the garden and break the heat, but nothing strong enough to damage the giant backyard mesquite.
We soldier on, trying not to complain too much about this heat. (And I’m plotting a quick beach getaway.)
This life is so much better than just enough. My heart is full and very happy!
These will stay in peat pots for another two weeks before being transplanted. This is just the first half of the 65 or so heirloom tomato babies I have going in my kitchen. It is going to be a big year for tomatoes around the homestead.
In other news, I’m making grapefruit marmalade and rosemary lemon cake this week too; time to stock the pantry shelves and our bellies with the abundance of citrus this time of year!